Official promotional poster
|Edited by||John Axelrad|
|Box office||$1.3 million|
Antebellum is a 2020 American psychological horror thriller film written and directed by Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz in their feature directorial debuts. The film stars Janelle Monáe, Eric Lange, Jena Malone, Jack Huston, Kiersey Clemons, and Gabourey Sidibe, and follows a modern-day African American woman who must escape from what appears to be a 19th-century Southern slave plantation.
Antebellum was released in the United States through video on demand on September 18, 2020. The film received mostly negative reviews from critics, who felt it did not live up to its full potential.
The film opens on a Louisiana plantation run by the Confederate Army in the midst of the American Civil War. Slaves there are treated extremely harshly and not allowed even to speak without permission. Those who dare to attempt to escape are killed and their bodies are burned in a crematorium.
Later, a group of new slaves are brought to the plantation. Among the new slaves is a pregnant woman whom the plantation owner, Elizabeth, names Julia and places in the care of another slave, Eden, the unwilling mistress of a Confederate general referred to only as "Him". Julia recognizes Eden and asks her to plan an escape; having already been branded by Him for an earlier failed escape attempt, Eden urges her to keep her head down and her mouth shut. That evening, a Confederate soldier named Daniel beats Julia when she speaks to him without permission, causing her to miscarry. When she fails to appear at work the next day, Eden is sent to find her and discovers her lifeless body hanging from her cabin's rafters.
While sleeping with the general, Eden has a dream in which she is Veronica Henley, a successful, renowned sociologist who is traveling to speak at a seminar promoting her new book. Afterwards, she meets her friends Dawn and Sarah, and agrees to go out with them to dinner since she needs to fly home the next day. Elizabeth, posing as a representative of a private company with an interest in Veronica's work, sneaks into her hotel room and steals her lipstick. Veronica leaves dinner in what she believes is her Uber ride, but Elizabeth, having located her using information provided by the hotel concierge, surprises her and has her husband Jasper, hiding in the backseat, knock her out cold.
Veronica wakes up and tells her fellow captive Eli, whose wife had been killed during their previous attempt to flee, that they will once again try to escape. Having put grease on the door hinges to silence them, Veronica quietly sneaks out of bed while the general is asleep and steals his phone, but drops it when Daniel and another soldier walk by. Daniel takes the phone and Eli follows him to a remote field, where he kills him with a hatchet. As the phone can only be unlocked with facial recognition, Veronica goes back to the cabin to find that the general is awake; Eli is killed trying to protect her and she manages to stab the general with his own sword before unlocking the phone and sending her location to her husband. As she hides the general in the crematorium, Jasper runs into her. Veronica lures him and another guard into the crematorium and sets fire to it, leaving the three men to burn to death as she steals the general's horse and rides off.
Elizabeth pursues her on horseback and reveals that she handpicked every slave on the plantation except for Veronica, whom she only kidnapped at her father's insistence. Veronica manages to knock her off her horse and put a rope around her neck after a brief struggle, dragging her along until she hits a statue of Robert E. Lee, breaking her neck. Veronica flees the pursuing soldiers into the chaos of a battle, revealing that the "plantation" is actually part of a Civil War reenactment park owned by the general under his real name, Blake Denton. Veronica escapes as the police arrive to liberate the other captives; once the truth is revealed, the park is torn down.
- Janelle Monáe as Veronica Henley / Eden
- Eric Lange as Senator Blake Denton / Him
- Jena Malone as Elizabeth
- Jack Huston as Captain Jasper
- Kiersey Clemons as Julia
- Gabourey Sidibe as Dawn
- Marque Richardson as Nick DeWall
- Tongayi Chirisa as Eli Stokes / Professor
- Robert Aramayo as Daniel
- Lily Cowles as Sarah
- London Boyce as Kennedi Henley
In March 2019, it was announced Janelle Monáe had joined the cast of the film, with Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz directing from a screenplay they wrote. Ray Mansfield and Sean McKittrick will serve as producers on the film under their QC Entertainment banner, while Lionsgate will distribute. In April 2019, Eric Lange, Jena Malone, Jack Huston, Kiersey Clemons, Tongayi Chirisa, Gabourey Sidibe, Robert Aramayo and Lily Cowles joined the cast of the film. In May 2019, Marque Richardson joined the cast of the film.
Antebellum was released through video on demand in the United States on September 18, 2020, while still playing in theaters in select overseas countries. The film was originally scheduled to be released on April 24, 2020, but was delayed to August 21, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, before being pulled off the release schedule temporarily in July 2020.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 28% based on 116 reviews, with an average rating of 4.8/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "Antebellum fails to connect its images with any meaning, making for a largely unpleasant experience lacking any substantial scares." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 44 out of 100, based on 34 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews."
David Ehrlich of IndieWire gave the film a "C+" and wrote, "An artful and provocative movie about the enduring horror of America's original sin, Antebellum can't follow through on its own concept." Writing for The Hollywood Reporter, Jourdain Searles said the film was "more interested in making a point than digging deep" and "In the end, Antebellum is undone by a lack of empathy and emotion. It has no real perspective on the past and thus fails to make any real impact on the present."
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- "Antebellum (2020)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 20, 2020.
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- Ehrlich, David (August 31, 2020). "'Antebellum' Review: Janelle Monáe's American Horror Story Trips on Its Own Wild Twists". IndieWire. Retrieved August 31, 2020.
- Jourdain Searles (August 31, 2020). "'Antebellum': Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved August 31, 2020.